The term “expunge” means to erase or otherwise remove. Many people who have a prior criminal arrest or conviction want to find out how to expunge their records.
But while this is an option in many areas, it is not a guarantee. Often the option to expunge your record only comes with certain conditions or after a set period of time has passed.
As FindLaw points out, each state is allowed to set its own specific process for a person to apply to expunge their records.
For this reason, it is important to contact your state’s website to learn the details of what your state may require as well as to follow the steps outlined in this article.
1. First, find out if the specific record is eligible for expungement.
NOLO states that the first step is to find out if the issue at hand is even eligible to be expunged from your record.
Some records may be eligible after a specific period of time has elapsed. Other records may be eligible only after the terms of the conviction have been met in full.
And still other records may only be available if the conviction was relatively minor (for example, a misdemeanor may be eligible while a felony may not be eligible).
2. Next, file the appropriate documents or petitions.
As Background Checks explains, the typical next step towards getting your record expunged is to file documents – most commonly, in the form of a petition.
You can usually file this petition yourself without needing to involve an attorney at this stage. You may also be required to actually serve (or legally deliver) the petition or documents to the appropriate party, such as the district attorney or judge.
Here again, your specific state will determine what documents are needed and who will need to receive them to get your expungement hearing underway.
Be sure to fill out your documents precisely and neatly. Any missing or illegible information will cause delays in the process and may even require you to re-start the process again from the beginning.
3. Consider working with an attorney to expunge your record.
While many people are able to complete and submit the initial paperwork without legal assistance, at some point you will probably have to stand in front of a judge yourself and have a dialogue about your expungement request.
This can be nerve-wracking and intimidating even for the most confident people. So this is the stage where you may consider retaining an attorney’s services.
With an attorney’s help, you can have an expert who will speak on your behalf to the judge and make the best case in favor of your expungement request.
4. Know what your other options are if you can’t get your record expunged.
Unfortunately, different states may administer expungement criteria differently. As well, not all offenses may be eligible for expungement, no matter how much time has gone by where you have maintained a clean record.
If this is the case, it is important not to assume you have no other recourse available to you.
There are other options that you may be able to explore. These include sealing of your records, a certificate of dismissal, a certificate of innocence, a case reversal, a certificate of rehabilitation and even a full pardon.
It can be worth scheduling a free consultation with a qualified attorney to talk through your other options if you can’t get your record expunged for any reason.
5. Consider seeking legal aid if an attorney is beyond your means.
Even if you are not able to afford an attorney, you may qualify for free or low cost legal aid.
There may be a nonprofit or legal aid clinic in your city that will be willing to talk with you about the options for expunging your record.